Mapping True Places
“It is not down in any map; true places never are.”
This fall, Poecology is launching its third year of publishing contemporary place-based and ecological writing. I’m also excited to announce the launch of a new project: the Literary Locator, also known as the Literary Place Map project. Together, the issue and map celebrate ecoliterature in new and exciting ways. It’s an attempt to put true places on the map.
This year, we received an unprecedented stream of international writing about place, ecology, and the environment. I founded Poecology three years ago because I wanted to open up that stream to new writers and readers. I’m blessed to be able to publish authors I admire and discover new ones. It’s a wonderful journey. This year, I am launching the Literary Locator because I believe that mapping the creative topography of our world is essential for environmental change.
This issue includes an interview with Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, editors of the recent Ecopoetry Anthology. We talk about possibilities for ecopoetry—what the term means to us, how we use it, and why we need it. In their introduction to the anthology, Ann and Laura-Gray carve out three kinds of ecopoetry—nature poetry, environmental poetry, and ecological poetry—each with their own aims and arrows. You can read more about them here. The terms are fluid and overlapping, just like our approaches to place-based writing, but these categories can help us navigate the possibilities.
Issue 3 is full of poems and stories that skirt the boundaries of each ecopoetic approach. Karen An-hwei Lee’s poem “Elegy at Mission San Juan Capistrano” and Matthew James Babcock’s “Idaho Etudes” show how places can be splintered, imagistic, colorful, and peopled—examples perhaps of ecological poetry, but of environmental poetry, too.
Nicole Parizeau’s “Angle of Repose”—a short poem about the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in 2010—takes all three approaches in seven brief lines. The poem begins with an image of a moon jelly in the Gulf. But the moon jelly is listing—it’s a vessel for oil. Parizeau’s poem borrows the title of Wallace Stegner’s acclaimed novel to give new meaning to the moon jelly. A celebrated writer of the American West, Stegner was also an environmentalist who co-founded the Committee For Green Foothills and wrote extensively about rapid changes to western landscapes. In a way, Parizeau’s piece picks up Stegner’s message and “places” it in the Gulf region, making the narrative of environmental destruction not only a regional story, but a national (and societal) one as well.
Issue 3 also contains works that are not specifically place-based, but nonetheless draw deeply on ecological concerns. Jack Snyder’s poem “Coalminers’ Haiku” illuminates the negative psychological and physical effects of coalmining. The deeper we get into the poem, the deeper we sink into the mine and the mind:
“We // drag us into the night-sky underground. Blackened or sunless. Ask not // ask less, what hell is.”
It’s hard to disagree with Melville—perhaps it is impossible to chart true places. But with ecoliterature as a tool, we can record our relationship to living systems. We can reflect upon that record and try to improve it.
There’s so much more to discover in this issue. We hope you enjoy the work in these pages. Let us know which pieces move, inspire, and raise questions in you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us here. We’d love to hear from you.
August 31, 2013